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Football journalism in England is irretrievably broken

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Football journalism in England is irretrievably broken

My argument in this piece is in the title – and the consequence is that we are not only being very badly served by football journalism but we are also being misled by football journalism

My view is that the footballing media tend to copy each other.  In one sense one could argue that this is inevitable – after all they are dealing with factual affairs… a particular game, a particular player, a particular transfer.  And yet in other areas of reporting the press are very much offering different lines, whether it is in terms of film or play reviews, or commenting on political matters.  Only  in football do the pundits in the media collide.

I like to go to the movies, and it is commonplace for me to see a film get four or five stars in one paper and one or two in another.  That’s how it goes, and that is to be welcomed.  But in football…

Let’s take one example: Arsène Wenger’s terrible red card record.  If you were reading the British press, or listening on the radio or TV you would have heard this story repeatedly almost daily during the first four or five years of Wenger’s reign.  “This is the 30th red card during Wenger’s time at Arsenal,” they would shout (or in their own strange lingo, “crow”).

What is interesting is that not one of them ever compared the period of time they were quoting with what happened in other clubs.  It would have been so easy to say, “There are been 25 red cards at Arsenal during the past five seasons, compared with x at Manchester United and y at Liverpool.” But no one did.

I want to make this point quite clear.  I am not saying, “The Mail is anti-Arsenal because they just quoted Wenger’s red card record and didn’t give any other club’s record, so that we could measure the enormity of his crime.”  Rather, my point is that no one gave the contrast.  I heard that story 100 times over a period of a couple of years, and not one journalist said, “The score is Wenger 25, Ferguson 19” or whatever.

And yet that would have been a great story for a reporter.  Everyone else misses the point, and doesn’t give the comparative results – so one journo does the work, and gets a scoop.  Great.  But it didn’t happen.

And my question is, why was that? Why did every media outlet run the story in the same way?   It would never happen in any other area of journalism where each media outlet likes to be seen as different.

We can see this same problem in smaller, everyday stories.  Bendtner is a useless forward who can’t score.   Bendtner has scored six goals in his five games since coming back from a very serious injury.

You could almost see the journalists moving together as if pulled by some invisible force, from one approach to the other, before and after Porto.  After the Hull game, following the new official journalist line, Match of the Day even went so far as to point out how Bendtner got his goal by doing what the good forwards do in every game, follow up on the possibility.   Bendtner saw the shot, and ran on just in case the keeper made a slip.  They praised him for that.  That’s the new official line.  Bendtner good.

Let’s try another approach. You need an English spine to a team to win the league.  No analysis, no statistics, no nothing.  Just a statement repeated endlessly from one paper to another.

Or refereeing.   The criticism of refs and linesmen on is continual – which looking at the way in which the offside for the Hull penalty was missed may seem like a good idea.  But the issue of why these mistakes are made is hardly touched.  Are the refs badly trained?  Is it impossible to get these things right because of the speed of the game?  Are the refs influenced in an Italian style approach with “favours done”?  Are any totally bought by gambling syndicates?

The point is, there is no debate one way or another.

There is in fact an absolute agreement not to follow certain leads.  For example, Portsmouth are bust, as we all know.  Huge amounts of money have been earned by the club in transfers of players out, and yet they are still utterly broke.  How could this be?   We don’t know, and no one seems to want to get their hands dirty finding out.   Meanwhile three people who worked in very senior jobs at Portsmouth are all separately about to go to court on tax evasion charges (Storrie, Redknapp, Manderic).   Is there any connection?

I am not saying that there is, or that any of these three has done anything wrong.  Of course not – I don’t know, because I am just a regular guy who writes blogs.

But with the resources of a major national daily, or the BBC, or Sky Sports News, or ITV behind me, I think I would be able to get a sniff of what is going on.

Yet no one does.

So why not?

One reason is that the journalists are lazy.  Finding out stories like this is hard work, and it is easier to sit in the pub and make up rumours.  (By the way, a new Untold Rumours section starts today on the home page. There’s only one rumour at this moment, but I think we can make it build).

Another reason is that no one wants to rock the boat.   Start asking nasty questions and you can get banned from the ground, or get your cosy chats with managers on their mobiles stopped.  Your sources of tasty easy stories goes, and that’s that.

Panorama on BBC TV has tried, and did expose the dirty doings of various people like Sam Allerdyce’s son, and Harry Redknapp and co at Portsmouth.  After the screening of the show, everyone implicated threatened to sue the BBC.  As far as I know no one did.   But then, the BBC didn’t follow up either. Maybe they did a deal – “we won’t go further, but please don’t stop talking to us”.

Let me end with an award winning column – Said and Done – in the Observer.  Each week this points out some of the silly things said and done in the world of football.  A typical entry involves a player saying, “I love this club, I will never leave” on monday, and then putting in a transfer request on Wednesday.   There’s the odd comment on the doings of Fifa’s financial committees, and a few silly lines about the lovers of various footballers.  So its at that level.   Not exactly high powered journalism, but a bit of a jolly read on a sunday.

Except that it stops at that point.  It makes fun of footballers’ saying, but never of journalists’ sayings.  Daily Mail says, “Cesc is desperate to go to Spain because he is convinced Arsenal will never win anything, and will leave this summer” and then Cesc signs another 27 year extension to his contract the next day.  It’s as worthy of coverage in their sort of column, as footballers’ lovers, but they won’t touch it.  It’s the football journalists’ cosy club.  Don’t knock each other.   It doesn’t happen elsewhere (remember the Mirror’s headline: “the Sun caught lying again”?   Don’t get that in football.

So that’s the problem.  A cosy club with everyone following the same line.  By and large football journalism in the UK is broken, and looks to me to be beyond repair.

(c) Tony Attwood 2010

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16 comments to Football journalism in England is irretrievably broken

  • Al

    Journalism is broken full stop. Read Flat Earth News by Nick Davies. The Daily Mail has its own chapter.

  • Diaminedave

    We need a Ben Goldacre of football journalism.

  • 0.9 Calibre

    “I am not saying that there is, or that any of these three has done anything wrong. Of course not – I don’t know, because I am just a regular guy who writes blogs.”- Doing a Mark Anthony eh tony? I personally think that Sports Journalism in particular is handled by a bunch of miserable journos who couldnt even make it to Page 3 columns… They are media rejects trying to scrape a living.. Journalists in general aren’t lazy…

    And regarding refereeing, During the Hull game, the only thing that ran in my mind was that Andre Marriner was bought. The commentator on fox sports was mentioning that Hull’s survival was worth 100 mil to them.. I think Peter Walton and Marriner are rotten apples, I hope some lazy ass sports journo finally gets tired of his miserable life and decides to do something.. these 2 refs are waiting to be stripped..

  • JP

    The trouble is all football journalists have to follow the same line otherwise they’ll get blasted by their editors. Imagine, for example, a reporter at the Sun and the Mirror, the two arch-rivals in the newspaper world. If the Sun journalist writes the story a certain way and it’s a success while the Mirror journo doesn’t, he will get the hairdryer treatment from his editor.

    Football journalism is completely different from other forms of journalism, in news, for example, it is about getting the different quote or the different angle, it is fiercely competitive. In sports journalism I think the journalists from various newspapers club together to get the same quotes, facts and similar angles simply because they are afraid of losing their jobs. If they all do the same no-one will be sacked for missing a story!

  • GunningHead

    If the good Lord will allow me to gloat, I think I might just gloat over Phil Brown’s “relief of duties”. Never has a bloated ego had a fall from such an incredible height of pride has there been a plastic character like Phil Brown been on the scene.

    He belongs in comic books, not the complex world of football management.

  • Gf60

    Wtitten on Sunday in response to Walter’s article….

    Listening to Bill Phrown’s post match comments: Why, oh why, did I think of a Water Conservation ode?

    If it’s yellow, let it mellow.
    If it’s Brown, flush it down.

    Strange thing to think?

    It was then, now it just proves PSYCHIC AT WORK!

  • LRV

    Tony, that’s why they are renamed iZombies, the lot of them. Why bother with facts when the poor readership sods are so gullible, they will believe excrement is a palatable dish?

    GunningHead: Perhaps now The Arsenal FC, its captain, the fabulous FAB and its manager, Arsene Wenger will be spared from the lying, Spitty, fake-tanned, Orange man.

  • Sam

    Another example was Shawcross.

    The “next morning”, every football reporter said “I’ve looked at the tackle again and it doesn’t look malicious. Shawcross was noticeably distraught and crying, he certainly doesn’t look ‘that’ kind of player”.

    Yet, no lazy reporter bothered to do his homework and find out a little about Shawcross’s background, else they shouldn’t have missed Shawcross breaking Jeffer’s leg two seasons ago – or attempting to break Adebayor’s ankle last season even though the ball was out of play.

    It took several Arsenal bloggers to point out to those facts before they started getting mentioned in the mainline newspapers! Such a shame those fat gits get paid for lying flat on their back and spewing out garbage from their keyboards!

  • wambam

    We all knw that half of those red-cards were because certain refs wanted to be the center of attention,as always!
    Would love to see a replay of them all.
    Arsenal SOMEHOW got the SAME yellow cards vs Hull on sat!still can’t believe it.
    Anyone read Stan collymore’s comments about Bentner lately?don’t knw what to say.shocking!

  • Even Ben Goldacre can get lazy. A magazine run by the Times did a full page assault on me (in relation to my day job, nothing to do with football) about 18 months ago, and picked out one statement that I didn’t make, read it to Goldacre (with whom I had had a very amusing correspondence a week or two before) and got him to say, “That’s terrible, we don’t want that approach”.

    Goldacre did not bother to check with me whether I had said such things, or that anything the Times gave him was actually written by me and provided in context.

    I was rather pissed off with him. Didn’t bother to go back and have it out with him – there was no point. But he went down in my estimation at that point.

  • Finsbury

    This story ‘broke’ the same week as the ‘Galactico’s’ crashed out of the ECL.

    No mention outside of blogs like this one of how manic, lazy & contemptuous, the gibberish uttered by Bill Kenwright towards people who follow football is.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2010/mar/11/everton-billionaire-bill-kenwright

    ho ho ho.

    If the models that some clubs are pursuing really does mimic some of the ridiculous, over leveraged, debt-laden, mind-bending & spoon twisting PFI style contracts that have been in ‘vogue’ (for the benefit of rogues?); then property, and stadiums are essential enticements, or lucre,
    for any ‘Investor’.

    The bleating coming out of most EPL clubs is starting to resemble the insane and comical attempts by the English Cricket Board/MCC to maintain power, position and status in their efforts to jump into ‘bed’ with the bizarre and vaguely dubious Stanton.

    I mean, did they look at his dodgy ‘tache ( no offence meant to any who might be heading to the Munich Beard & Moustache festival!) before they signed the contract…or what?

    Very amusing.

  • I am afraid its not only UK journalism anymore. As I fallow Arsenal on local BHT1 I see the same approach to Arsenal. If they don’t broadcast Arsenal game, than they will ignore it, you wont even heard game is played.

    Somehow I think Arsenal is team which they don’t find interesting as Arsenal players are stars only on the pitch, so media have nothing to chew about out of those 90 minutes, and that hardly can fill 24 h of program. Of course to make it more interesting you ll try to frame it, to set up anything what may course reaction. If there is no news, than lets make news.
    Arsenal players play football and don’t appear in commercials, don’t advertise deodorants (Chech), underwear (Ronaldo) etc etc (hm now I wandering what could Rooney advertise…plastic surgery or beer). Anyway, Arsenal is by no means team what makes TV program be more watched, or papers to be bought, so because such behavior you have to punish them.

  • Diaminedave

    Ahh!! well sorry to hear that Tony
    In general he, Ben Goldacre, seems to be good at teasing out the contrariness of statistics and the blithe way people use them with out really understanding the question being asked or tested.
    I agree with the various points made above and part of the reason might be the infamous libel laws of the UK which appear to be closing the door on decent investigative journalism.
    all the best
    Dave

  • Finsbury

    Typo at Finsbury March 15th, 2010 at 5:39 pm:

    Sanford should have said Stanford, as in Allen Stanford.

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article5762578.ece

  • lengooner

    THE MEDIA HAVE BEEN TRYING TO CREATE A SUPERSTAR OUT OF SHRECK SINCE LAST SEPTEMBER.
    THIS IS THE SAME SHRECK WHO HAS SCORED 4 PENS AND 21 TAP IN AND AROUND THE 6 YARD BOX.(NOT ONE GOAL OUTSIDE THE BOX.
    THE SAME SHRECK WHO IS SUPPOSED TO BE MORE THAN JUST A STRIKER, BUT HAS ONLY HAD 4 ASSISTS.
    THE SAME SHRECK WHO’S NEVER BEAT A PLAYER WITH A DRIBBLE ALL SEASON AND WE ARE PINNING OUR HOPES ON HIM FOR THE WORLD CUP HA HA HA.

  • Jack

    The point about football journalism is that it’s largely irrelevant these days. When we’ve all seen all the games on TV there’s nothing for them to meaningfully add – hence they make up ‘stories’ like the Gallas tackle.